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Marlboro Yamaha Team starts as it means to go on!

Marlboro Yamaha Team starts as it means to go on!

The 52nd and final 500 World Championship got underway at Suzuka today with Marlboro Yamaha Team rider Max Biaggi on provisional pole and team-mateCarlos Checa battling influenza in 11th. Biaggi´s stunning speed, which follows an impressive winter of testing, confirms that the Italian willindeed be a major force in the contest for the 2001 crown.

´We are obviously happy to see that Max is so fast, though we also feel sorry for Carlos,´ said Marlboro Yamaha Team director Hiroya Atsumi. ´Ithink this shows that we have done some good work over the season and I think you could say we are ready to race! I told Carlos to take it easytoday, because there´s no point in him trying too hard when he feels bad, because it would be so easy to make a mistake. As always, we´re still improving our machines and we have some modified engine parts here, which we first tried during recent tests.´

Max Biaggi put his Marlboro Yamaha Team YZR500 on provisional pole atsun-soaked Suzuka this afternoon, lapping the epic Japanese circuit almostfour tenths faster than closest-rival Norick Abe (Yamaha). With rumours of rain for tomorrow, Biaggi´s speed on the first day of qualifying could be acrucial advantage for Sunday´s race. The Italian looked in superb form today, artfully manhandling his YZR through Suzuka´s complex curves as hespent much of the session duelling for pole with Tohru Ukawa (Honda).

´Everything went well today,´ said Biaggi, winner of the ´98 500 GP at Suzuka. ´We had a few problems in the medium-speed corners this morning, a lack of confidence in the rear, but we made some adjustments and fixed that. I think we can go faster still if we can do some more fine tuning but it will be hard to hang on to pole tomorrow because there´s a lot of fast riders out there. I just hope it stays dry. I think today proves that our bike is definitely better than last year, the Yamaha is a good package now. Also, I feel in good form and I believe in the team.´

Carlos Checa was a close second quickest in recent pre-season tests at Suzuka but the Marlboro Yamaha Team man was unable to repeat that performance today after contracting a mild dose of ´flu. The Spaniard hadlittle sleep last night and received medical attention this morning in an attempt to improve his strength for the first qualifying session of theseason.

´I caught something yesterday, started feeling dizzy and felt terrible thismorning,´ said Checa, who was nevertheless just 1.166 seconds off pole. ´I just did the best I could, spending the day getting a feeling for the trackand testing some tyres, all without taking any big risks. Now I´ll see the doctors again and I aim to get an early night tonight. That´s what my bodyhas been telling me all day - it needs to go to bed!´

Reigning 500 champ Kenny Roberts (Suzuki) could only manage ninth in the first qualifying session of his title-defence season. The American has had a problematic winter of testing with a redesigned RGV500. ´It´s easy to saywhat our problems our - bad karma,´ said Roberts, without revealing the causes of the karma. ´But I still think we´ve got a good enough package toget to the finish line in front, though I´m gonna need to ride harder than last year. People are talking about it raining on Sunday. No one wants that but it could be good for us.´

Twice a 500 winner at Suzuka, Norick Abe was in flying form today. ´The bike is good and I feel very strong,´ said the Japanese, not usually at his best in qualifying. ´We have a good set-up after testing here, but we will try and make the bike even better tomorrow.´

Valentino Rossi (Honda) was third, five hundredths down on Abe. ´I feel good so far, we´re in nice shape for the race, all we have to do is choose between a couple of rears,´ said the youngster. ´Some people are saying that the Honda is the fastest bike but I think it´s the same speed as the Yamaha;only the Suzuki is different, it´s just a little slower.´

500cc, 2001

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